Firewalls - Hacker Protection

When it comes to trying to figure out security software, the firewall tends to be the most intimidating to new users. Protection from hackers would be impossible without them and they are often the first and last line of defense against spyware infections, but they still tend to be misunderstood or underestimated, especially by inexperienced users.

What firewalls are and how they work

To make a long story short, a firewall is a piece of software that specializes in monitoring the network traffic coming from and to a protected computer. They also monitor which applications request permission to connect to the Internet. Firewalls are able to increase your computer's security in three important ways:

(1) Running in "stealth mode"


Firewalls increase your protection from hackers by immunizing your computer against probing, by refusing to answer to unknown signals. Without a firewall, if your PC receives a request to open a communication port, it sends an answer, even if it is a "no". This way, your PC unknowingly confirms that it exists, making future attacks much more probable.

Firewalls rely on their ability to mask the computer's existence - if hackers do not know if there is a computer under a specific address, the chances are that they will simply try a different address rather than trying to hijack your PC.

(2) Packet monitoring and filtering


Firewalls monitor all data packets that enter or leave the network and check them against a list of rules based on the data sources, its destination and the port number, making sure that it knows exactly where the packets were sent from with the IP they came with.

If you should ever experience a lot of strange traffic between your machine and some unknown IP, most firewalls are able to stop it immediately by prohibiting contacting with that IP address.


(3) Access rules for applications


Then finally, there are access rules for applications in order to prohibit most of them from accessing the network. This can effectively reduce the chances of compromising your vital data even if some spyware program manages to get past your other security software as it would be unable to send the information back to its creator.

XP built-in firewall vs. other firewalls


While Windows XP has its own built-in firewall, it is recommended to install your own, as the Windows firewall lacks several important functions and is able to provide only a partial defense.

The best choice is buying either Outpost Firewall or ZoneAlarm Pro. Hacker protection levels will be much greater if you decide to employ a decent independent firewall rather than relying on the Windows security alone.

A good independent firewall employs all three main functions, (see above) as well as several other useful features. Outpost Firewall is able to block pop-up windows, unwanted content and even pictures, giving you a powerful tool to increase your network security, as well as the ability to protect your child against adult content. ZoneAlarm, on the other hand, is able to provide built-in anti-virus and anti-spam tools that can add a lot to your system security.

The bottom line: Windows XP firewall will give you only basic protection. An independent firewall will be able to create an almost impregnable defense layer. If you keep anything on your PC that you prefer to keep secret, buying an external firewall is vital.


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